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Mental vs. Physical Work Injuries (How Do They Differ?)

By December 15, 2020 No Comments

More often than not, workplace injuries lead to severe physical ailments. Although common workplace injuries like head injuries or falling off a ladder harm a worker’s body, that’s not the only thing being affected. Mental injuries are also typical in the workplace, causing long-term issues for employees. When seeking workers’ compensation, it’s crucial to understand both physical and psychological workplace injuries’ key differences and nuances.

Injuries in the Workplace

Injuries are a common occurrence in the workplace and can lead to different debilitating problems down the road. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that an estimated 2.8 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses occurred within private industries in 2019.

Workplace injuries will either be physical or mental, both of which can take a toll on employees’ lives in mental, physical, and financial ways. If mental or physical damages are severe enough to take the injured party out of work for an extended period, that employee may seek workers’ compensation.

Mental and physical injuries often emerge at the same time, or one results from the other. It’s challenging to define a mental workplace injury, so workers and their employers must have adequate documentation of official diagnoses when filing for workers’ compensation. If an employer’s insurance refuses to cover workers’ compensation for a mental injury, an employee can seek a workers’ compensation lawyer to assess the next best steps.

Physical Injuries

Several industries require physical exertion that often leads to injuries. Physical injuries in the workplace are defined as those injuries that arise in the course of gainful employment. The overarching term, “workplace injury,” also includes illnesses that occur due to a hazardous work environment. Some of the most common workplace injuries include:

  • Slips and falls
  • Being struck by a moving object
  • Repetitive motion injuries
  • Electrocution
  • Entanglement

When a physical injury occurs, it can often lead to other issues, including mental injuries. Workers’ compensation benefits typically cover physical and mental problems that arise in conjunction with each other. 

Mental Injuries

Mental injuries in the workplace are a little bit trickier to define. There are several mental health ailments and traumatic brain injuries that result from a physical injury at work. Certain workplace environments can also trigger a mental problem for some people. To get a better idea of what insurance will cover in terms of a mental injury, local laws break them down into three different categories:

  • Mental/Physical: The mental injury results in a physical ailment (i.e., heart attack, ulcers, etc.)
  • Physical/Mental: A bodily workplace injury leads to psychological damage.
  • Mental/Mental: Mental stimulus causes a mental injury. 

Individual states determine if employees affected by mental injuries and illnesses acquired in the workplace are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. The final ruling for benefits is a result of the type of mental injury that occurred.

Mental/Physical

As long as there is medical evidence to prove that a physical condition has resulted from mental stress, a mental/physical workplace injury is compensable. Mental/physical illnesses are most common among:

  • Police officers
  • Firefighters
  • EMTs
  • Correctional officers
  • State patrol

Stressful situations can take a serious toll on a person’s body. Issues like heart attacks, ulcers, and work-related GERD are examples of mental/physical illnesses that affect employees in high-stress occupations.

Physical/Mental

Physical/mental workplace injuries operate in the opposite way that mental/physical ailments do. Instead of the injury arising after physical damage occurs, the mental condition results from  an earlier bodily injury. The majority of physical/mental afflictions are compensable under Minnesota law.

In cases where a physical injury exacerbates a preexisting mental health condition, an employer’s insurance should also cover workers’ compensation benefits. However, it is challenging to prove a physical/mental injury for workers’ compensation since the physical damage still must contribute substantially to causing the mental illness or disability.

Mental/Mental

The most difficult mental injury to gain compensation for is the mental/mental injury, which can be quite controversial. These types of workplace injuries happen without any relation to physical injuries. One of the most common types of mental/mental injuries in the workplace is PTSD, otherwise known as post-traumatic stress disorder.

In some states, including Minnesota, PTSD is covered by workers’ compensation, as long as it is not due to disciplinary action, transfers, termination, or other significant job stressors. Eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits hinges on a professional diagnosis of PTSD from an accredited physician. Unfortunately, other mental/mental issues are not as easy to prove as their physical counterparts. 

What’s Covered?

Injuries in the workplace aren’t something to be taken lightly by both employers and their employees. As soon as an injury arises, whether it’s a mental or physical injury, it’s crucial that workers inform their supervisor so the appropriate next steps can come to fruition.

When a workplace injury is severe enough to disturb an employee’s physical and mental well-being or hinder their ability to perform necessary tasks on the job, they may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. The most common physical workplace injuries, like slips, falls, and overexertion, are typically covered by insurance since they are easily proven. On the other hand, mental work injuries are less commonplace, and obtaining workers’ compensation for them can be a challenge.

Mental injuries resulting from a physical ailment or that cause physical issues such as a heart attack are most likely to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Unfortunately, it’s understandably difficult to distinguish whether a mental ailment is due to a workplace injury or environment. Unless an employee develops PTSD from a hazardous work environment, it’s unlikely that they will receive benefits. 

Taking care of workers’ bodies and minds are both essential parts of an employer’s responsibilities, so workplace injuries must be taken seriously. Workers who are injured at their workplace should contact an experienced workplace injury lawyer knowledgeable about local workers’ compensation laws. Securing a workplace injury lawyer ensures that the employee receives all the benefits to which they are entitled.

Jerry Sisk

Jerry Sisk

Jerry is a Minnesota workers' compensation attorney and work injury lawyer. He a member of the Minnesota State Bar Association, Minnesota Association of Justice, and Anoka County Bar Association. He has 10/10 on Avvo, 5 Stars on Google, AV Rated through Martindale-Hubbell and National Trial Lawyers Top 100. Currently, he is Co-Chair of the Work Comp Section of the Minnesota Association of Justice.